Monday, August 22, 2016

Tom DiCillo's Drunk Film School

In an earlier post I shared a Google Hangout that I had with director/writer Tom DiCillo after a screening of Living in Oblivion. Tom, being Tom, took the youtube version of the interview and made it into something so much more... The Drunk Film School. In it Tom really give great advice to aspiring filmmakers about everything from working with actors and cinematographers to launching projects and working in TV. It's really worth watching, and there's no guru quite as fun as Tom.

Drunk Film School Trailer from Tom DiCillo on Vimeo.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The ultimate in film geekery apparel (Tees by Duane)

I would never consider myself a great designer, but over the years there have been a few T-shirts that I wish I could find elsewhere that don't seem to exist. So, I created my own T-shirt venture "Tees by Duane." I set it up at a site called However, it turns out that the good folks at Teepublic don't like my designs (What??), so you can't find my shirts if you Google them, or even if you search in their website search bar. Well, so I'm posting them here to promote them out to the world (in my massively read blog - hahahaha). Follow the links to order. Honestly, the shirts are really cool. They super comfortable. They come large but shrink to the appropriate size.

Sergei Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin T-Shirt

This is my favorite of all the shirts. It has the iconic image of the woman watching the baby carriage roll down the steps. It's a dazzling image - but you don't need to be a fan of Eisenstein to appreciate this shot. My skateboarder son thought it was a cool shirt without knowing anything about it. If you're looking for a shirt that expresses your love of film history, and makes you look punk rock... this is it. Order it at this link:

Eisenstein Battleship Potemkin T-Shirt
Eisenstein Battleship Potemkin T-Shirt (from Tees by Duane)

Walter Murch T-Shirt

Nothing shows off your true movie geek to your fellow movie geeks as well as this shirt of famous editor, sound designer and philosopher king, Walter Murch. Get your Murch Merch here:

Walter Murch T-shirt by Tees by Duane
Walter Murch T-Shirt (from Tees by Duane)
Classically Trained Editor T-Shirt (Moviola)

Let the other editors know that you can edit digitally and on film with this T-shirt featuring a Moviola film editing system. You learned to edit on film, you're awesome. Let the world know. Order it at this link:

classically trained film editor t-shirt
Classically trained film editor t-shirt (from Tees by Duane)

Free Jafar Panahi T-shirt

I recently wore this at the Aspen Shortsfest and got a lot of comments from film geeks from around the world. Jafar Panahi, of course, is the amazing filmmaker from Iran who has been under house arrest in his native country for publicly supporting the Green Movement which demanded the removal of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office. All these shirts can be purchased in any color, but I felt, in this case, green was the most appropriate. Get it here:

"Free Jafar Panahi" T-shirt from Tees by Duane
"Free Jafar Panahi" T-shirt (from Tees by Duane)

Pulp Fiction Screenplay T-shirt

This T-Shirt features the first page of one of the greatest screenplays ever written... Pulp Fiction, by Quentin Tarantino. In this scene Pumpkin and Hunny Bunny begin to plot to rob restaurants, eventually leading Jules to become a shepherd. Make it yours today:

INT. COFFEE SHOP (Pulp Fiction Page 1) Screenplay T-shirt
INT. COFFEE SHOP (Pulp Fiction Page 1) Screenplay T-shirt (from Tees by Duane)

Friday, March 25, 2016

An interview with Jennifer Prediger (Apartment Troubles)

Jennifer Prediger and Jess Weixler's "Apartment Troubles" is a great low-budget comedy that is both funny and emotional. It's well worth the watch, and for aspiring micro-budget filmmakers, worth the study. A bi-coastal film, they stretched their dollars on two coasts, and were able to recruit some great name actors. I recently had the opportunity to host a discussion with co-writer/director/star Jennifer Prediger with students from Utah Valley University's Digital Cinema program. Jennifer shared insights into collaborating, appealing to audiences (or not), and recruiting name actors, among many other things.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Interview with Tom Donahue, director of "Casting By"

The documentary film "Casting By" is a great watch for anyone interested in films and the filmmaking process. On micro-budget films I have seldom had the opportunity to work with casting directors, as it is often a role that I end up doing myself, but watching this doc makes me eager to work with Casting Directors who know their stuff and who can bring their own sensibility to a project.

This interview with Tom Donahue, the film's director, is part of a monthly series I host at Utah Valley University, called CineSkype, where we show a film, then Skype with the filmmaker.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

The importance of the 1st Assistant Director

I cannot over emphasize the importance of a good First Assistant Director when you're making your micro-budget movie. If you are just starting out, and don't know anyone in the industry, it is worthwhile to search for someone with more experience than you to be your 1st AD. If you hope to have a successful shoot that doesn't turn into less of a dream-come-true, and more of a nightmare, you need a good 1st.

I would say that the three people on your set who should have the most experience are your 1st AD, your cinematographer and your makeup artist. These are not roles you want to cheap out on. Fortunately there are always people who are looking for experience who can step into these roles and do a good job at a reasonable rate. When hiring a First AD you can look for people who have been a Second AD on multiple projects. You can reach out to people who have been First AD's and, if they're not willing to First your small project, see if they would recommend someone they've used as a Second to First your film.

Overall, you want an AD who is a great leader, but who is also a good person. Some AD's feel like they need to shout and make everyone unhappy. Only an AD who has poorly planned needs to do a whole lot of shouting. If you've planned your shoot, then an AD should be able to keep things under control. I find that New York based AD's tend to shout more than I like. I'm very much a West Coast guy, so I think it's just a matter of taste. I like my AD's to say please and thank you, and always to be courteous and respectful. I like having a happy set, and no one is happy if they are being consistently yelled at.

Left to right: Alun Lee (1st AD), actor Natalie Lander, Director Duane Andersen
On the set of Superpowerless with 1st Assistant Director Alun Lee (left), Natalie Lander (center) and director Duane Andersen (right).
So what does an AD do? They essentially do all the work that a director has to have done, but doesn't want to worry about themselves. They're responsibilities include:

1) Creating the shooting schedule and making sure the crew sticks to it. They are the "general" on set, making sure the schedule is being followed, and coming up with alternative plans when needed. Often a director shows up, asks what is being shot, and goes to it. It's nice for the director to not have to worry about the schedule.

2) Making sure the cast is where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be. The AD manages call-times and wrap times. They also create the call sheet which tells everyone what is being shot and when on a daily basis.

3) Directing "background players." The AD makes sure the extras are doing what they should be doing. If the director spent time "directing" the extras, they wouldn't be considered "extras" but "cast." Thus, is the policy of the film world, and the Screen Actors Guild.

4) Crew safety. The AD is the person who keeps her head in a situation when the director become too focused on her vision that something might injure cast or crew. After Sarah Jones's death three people were indicted for involuntary manslaughter: the director, the producer, and the 1st AD. She should have said, "No."

On the set of "A Serious Man," Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Betsy Magruder, Roger Deakins from Duane Andersen's blog
On the set of "A Serious Man," Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, Betsy Magruder, Roger Deakins.

I had the great opportunity to interview Betsy Magruder who has been the 1st AD for all of the Coen Brothers movies since O Brother Where Art Thou. She was nice enough to have me to her home and allow me to film our interview. This is a great video to watch if you are interested in performing the tasks of an AD, or if you're interested in hiring one.

PICTURE'S UP: Scheduling and Shooting the Siren Scene from O Brother Where Art Thou with 1st AD Betsy Magruder from Duane Andersen on Vimeo.

At Utah Valley University's Digital Cinema program we have a female filmmaker's club called FEMME (Females Empowered by Movie Making Experiences) which brought Betsy in for a Skype discussion. I am very grateful to Betsy for her willingness to spend time with and mentor our students.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sundance - The other days (Meet the Filmmakers)

After one of our events held at the Utah Film Commission Hub filmmakers (L to R) Kerem Sanga (First Girl I Loved), Mario Campos (Christine), Clay Tweel (Gleason), Andrew Neel (Goat), Jeff Feuerzeig) and Steven Kajak (We are X) pose in the Utah Postcard set.
After one of our events held at the Utah Film Commission Headquarters in Park City, filmmakers (L to R) Kerem Sanga (First Girl I Loved), Mario Campos (Christine), Clay Tweel (Gleason), Andrew Neel (Goat), Jeff Feuerzeig (Author: the JT LeRoy Story), and Steven Kijak (We are X), have fun in the Utah Postcard set. 

OK, it's hard to keep posting consistently, so it was a bad idea to try to keep a digital journal type thing for Sundance this year. But now that the dust has settled I can report on the other films I got to see and some of the other experiences.

As far as films go, in addition to what I already reported, I got to see Nuts (Penny Lane), Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker), The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer), Author: The JT LeRoy Story (Jeff Feuerzeig), and First Girl I Loved (Kerem Sanga) They were all fabulous. I learned a lot as a filmmaker from each film I saw, and will make better films myself for having seen them.

Each year I host several Meet-the-Filmmakers events for my students at Utah Valley University. These events are a highlight of the festival for me. We get to sit down with these awesome filmmakers and pick their brains and hear their advice for young filmmakers. This year was the second year we did it, and it's definitely becoming a thing. Last year I had four friends who had films in the festival, so I just called each of them and invited them to participate. This year I didn't know anyone, so I had to reach out through publicists, agents, and Facebook. In spite of the cold calls, we had a great response. We had nineteen different filmmakers participate this year - including all the filmmakers of the films that I got to see.

It was especially cool to have Mr. Parker there. Less than forty-eight hours before he had just sold his film for the highest amount of any film sale in Sundance (and all of film festival) history, but he very willingly and humbly came to sit with our students and answer their questions. I think all of the filmmakers who participated have already had some kind of sale, and several of them had super buzzed about films.

If I were to sum up what we learned from these filmmakers I would say: just make stuff. That's what we hear time and time again. Don't wait for permission or approval. Just go out and make stuff. It doesn't even have to be good. You can make stuff that you never show anyone - stuff that is horrible. It's the work and the learning that happens through work that matters. As you make things, you hone your craft and eventually you will make better and better things. This is a universal truth that I hear in one form or another from every filmmaker I interview.

Utah Valley University Film Students pose with (L to R) Andrew Hyland (The 4th), Nate Parker (Birth of a Nation), Aaron Brookner (Uncle Howard), and Rokhserah Ghaemmaghami (Sonita)
After another of our Meet-the-Filmmaker sessions Utah Valley University Film Students pose with (L to R) Andrew Hyland (The 4th), Nate Parker (Birth of a Nation), Aaron Brookner (Uncle Howard), and Rokhserah Ghaemmaghami (Sonita).

Writer/director Rebecca Daly (Mammal), producer Mel Eslyn (The Intervention), producer Kim Leadford (Joshy, Yoga Hosers, Too Legit) talk to film students from UVU.
Writer/director Rebecca Daly (Mammal), producer Mel Eslyn (The Intervention), producer Kim Leadford (Joshy, Yoga Hosers, Too Legit) talk to film students from UVU.

Writer/Director/Actor Jennifer Prediger talks with students from Utah Valley University's film program.

Writer/Director/Actor Jennifer Prediger (left) talks with students from Utah Valley University's film program.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

At Sundance - Days two to five

As I've continued my assignment as a volunteer at Sundance for my second year, I've had the chance to see several great movies. I've enjoyed all the movies I've seen, but want to give particular shout-outs, observations and predictions about a few of them.

Jesse Plemons is going to be a star

I've seen Jesse Plemons in three movies in the past couple of months:   Black Mass, Bridge of Spies, and now Chris Kelly's touching film Other People which premiered this weekend at Sundance. Plemons reminds me a lot of the late-great Philip Seymour Hoffman. In each of the films I've seen him he plays very different characters, and he's spot on with each. He's quickly becoming one of these actors that everyone wants to work with.

Kelly's film is very well done. If I could ask him a question it would be: what were your thoughts when you were making your film, and you saw James White? Because Other People and James White are ridiculously similar... however, their tone is extremely different. From personal experience, I am sure Kelly freaked out and felt like he was ruined, for a moment. Then I bet he realized that it's all about tone. And the tone of these two films are light years apart. I'm sure the programmers at Sundance would agree, otherwise, they wouldn't have scheduled these two films in back-to-back years.

Jesse Plemons and Molly Shannon star in Chris Kelly's Other People

Molly Shannon is very smart

Recently I've fallen in love with Molly Shannon. She was always great in her SNL days, but now she has embraced the role of being an Indie Darling. She has consistently done great work, and it won't be long before she starts doing bigger and bigger roles. By seeking out great directors, and not shying away from small budgets or first-time directors, she has amassed an impressive body of work. In fact, I feel her work has been better than just about any SNL alumni as far as quality and authenticity (except for Bill Murray - but she's definitely followed his model). On top of that, friends of mine who have worked with her, say that she is just an amazing person to work with as well. Hopefully for everyone involved, Other People, will help to get her the mainstream praise she deserves (though may not be interested in).

Molly Shannon at the premiere of Other People

Everyone involved in the movie The Free World is awesome

I hope this movie gets to rise above the indie-scope and gets some people out to see it. It's an amazingly tight, well executed, poetic, and intense thriller with great performances from Boyd Holbrook and Elisabeth Moss. Jason Lew, the film's writer/director, is headed for great things. The filmmaking world would be better with more films like this.

It's cool to just be able to stand near Paul Dano

I was very happy that Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe fought their way through a blizzard to come to the Grand Theater in Salt Lake City for the Q&A following their screening of Swiss Army Man. The film is unlike any other and is a whole lot of fun. There was all of this silly scandal because some people walked out. People walk out of movies at Sundance all the time. There's a lot of people who just get tickets, but are sensitive about what they watch; so they roll the dice, and if it's not to their liking they leave. That's cool. I think a movie like Swiss Army Man has a particular audience, however, and I think that audience will eat this up.  I thought the film was very entertaining and visually inventive.

At the Grand it's an almost all local crowd. Seldom will you find many industry people there. So, it's great when directors come to do the Q&A (and most of them do the first weekend), but it's seldom that actors make the journey... even more rare for actors of the profile of Dano and Radcliffe.

Mr. Dano is my favorite actor right now, so I was excited to just stand a few feet from him after the screening. It made my night.

Paul Dano in Swiss Army Man